WRiTE CLUB 2020 - Preliminary Bout #15



Today we reveal the final two contestants stepping into the WRiTE CLUB ring and I want to take this opportunity to congratulate all 30 contestants. Win or lose, it was an achievement simply making it this far! But what about the other writers who took the risk and submitted their work? I know you're disappointed, but there is some good news.

Don't despair, we are able to offer writers who didn't make it to the ring some feedback. A dozen of our slushpile readers have generously volunteered to critique your submission (one per writer), provided you meet two criteria. The first, you must send an email to WRITECLUB2020@GMAIL.COM to formally request the critique. The second condition, you must have voted (before the deadline) in at least ten of the fifteen bouts. This 2nd condition may seem harsh, but I have a hard time offering feedback to anyone who is unwilling to support their fellow writers by registering a simple vote. Once we receive your email and verify participation by voting, your submission will be looked at by all 12 slushpile readers and those critiques will be emailed back to you. Because I'm not sure how many of you will take part in this, it's impossible for me to say how long it will take to get this input back to you. Stay tuned for more information.

Recap

WRiTE CLUB is a tournament-style competition that runs during the eight weeks prior to the DFW Conference (who is also a sponsor) and it provides writers the opportunity to compete against one another for a chance to win a host of prizes, topped off by a free admission to the following year’s conference. Our writers have submitted 500-word writing samples under pen names and they'll be appearing in head-to-head in “bouts”, with the winner of each match determined by you the reader—by voting for your favorites. Bout winners keep advancing until there are only two remaining and that’s when a panel of celebrity judges, who include well know authors, agents, editors, and other publishing folks, choose the ultimate champion.

Even though the contest is sponsored by DFW, anyone can vote (as long as you have a Google sign-in or verifiable email address), and when you do, we encourage you to leave a mini-critique for both writers. Oh, I forgot to mention that the voters have a chance to win a $60 Barnes and Noble gift card. Each time you vote in a bout your name will be placed in a hat and at the end of the contest, one name will be selected to receive the prize. And as an added incentive to keep readers coming back for more, we're upping the ante. Readers who place a vote in EVERY bout will have their names placed in a second hat and the name selected from that pool will win a $40 Barnes and Noble gift card. Double the chances of winning!

Even though there will be a different bout every day (M-F), the voting for each bout will remain open for seven days from the date I post it to give as many people as possible to have a say. Voting for today’s bout will close on Thursday, May 28th (noon central time). To help keep up with which bouts are open, you can follow along on the WRiTE CLUB Scoreboard updated right HERE.

It’s that simple. The writing piece that garnishes the most votes will move on to the next round where they’ll face a different opponent. In case of a tie, I’m the deciding vote. I can do that because, like all of you, I do not know the real names of our contestants either (my wife processes all the submissions).

A few more rules –

1) One vote per visitor per bout.
2) Although our contestants are anonymous, voters cannot be. Anonymous votes will not count, so if you do not have a Google account and are voting as a guest, be sure to include your name and email address.
3) Using any method (email, social media, text, etc) to solicit votes for a specific contestant will cause that contestant's immediate disqualification. It’s perfectly okay, in fact, it is encouraged to spread the word about the contest to get more people to vote, just not for a specific writer!
4) Although more of a suggestion than a rule - cast your vote before you read other comments. Do not let yourself be swayed by the opinions of others.



Our first contestant in the ring is Miss_Sunflower representing the YA Fantasy genre.



“Zaraina Mandolin, water singer?” Master Lyranch asked. The deep bass of his voice sent her trembling.

 

“Yes, sir.” Nerves made her voice small.

           

“Keyne Jiranos, windcaller for this exam?” Master Lyranch continued.

           

“Yes, sir.” The boy stood barefoot across the arena near a pool of clear water, a set of pipes held loosely in his hand.

           

“Show us what you can do.” A waiting silence fell.

           

Zaraina shifted slightly to face Keyne, digging her toes into the fine damp sand, lengthening her posture. Her breathing deepened, she caught the tang of salt from the sea on the air. No matter if this wind caller could keep up with her or not, she would sing her best. Her eyes met his dark ones. He raised the pipes to his lips.

           

Storm Songs had no lyrics. There was no need for them when you were singing to water and wind. Keyne began the melody and instantly Zaraina felt a breeze tug at hair she’d tucked behind her ear. She narrowed her eyes, catching the barest smirk in the quirk of his cheek, and took a fresh breath. Then she let out that first long clear note. She felt the water in the pool answer her in a rippling echo. The notes of Keyne’s pipes changed just so, meeting her tone,

strengthening it. She blinked. No one had ever been able to do that. The joy of the music lifted her voice into the first aria.

           

The soft patter of the notes as she released them began to pull water from the pool and into the air, a mist that slowly formed clouds above them. For this piece, it was up to her to carry the depth of the song. She met Keyne in perfect counterpoint, bringing the water out to play as breezes and gusts swirled. The harmonies sent a chill over her skin and a hum in her bones unlike any she’d felt before. The resonance built into a current pulling her off the pages of music drilled into her head. Wind and water danced around them growing into a storm.

 

The music and the magic flowed through her. She wept with the strength of it. On cue, a  warm rain began to fall. Her tears and the rain mixed, pooling at their feet. Her voice softened as she returned to the practiced piece. Her eyes closed as she breathed the last few notes. The music faded and she opened her eyes to see Keyne take the pipes from his lips. They stared at one another in a silence that still vibrated with power.

 

A door above them slammed open. Zaraina shot her gaze away from Keyne as a steward rushed in. “Master Lyranch sir, there was an unauthorized waterspout in the courtyard.”

 

“Was there?” The Master Singer never moved his eyes from the pair of them. “It dissipated moments ago?”

 

“Yes sir, no lasting damage.”

 

“Take them below.” He ordered.

 

Again, Zaraina trembled. “Did we pass?”

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On the other side of the ring, our final preliminary round contestant is Lady Moonsong who is representing the Adult Fantasy genre.



The prince was dead and the kingdom grieved.

 

A solemn procession escorted the flower-strewn wagon carrying the infant’s body through the narrow, cobbled streets. Weeping villagers lined the route, hoping for a glimpse of the ill-fated parents, whose child had passed from the realm of the living to the realm of the dead in one short day. With wailing and lamentation, the tiny body was sealed in a tomb, mourned by dignitaries and courtiers, by his young sister and his inconsolable father, but not by his mother, who knew the truth.

 

That night, a figure in dark robes unlocked the gate and stole down the narrow steps into the stone-walled crypt. The intruder, a wizard by talent and trade, crept to the tomb and mustering his strength, shoved aside the heavy lid. It landed on the dirt floor with an echoing thud.

 

The child, swaddled in white, just his tiny face visible, only appeared to be dead. A spell stifled his breathing and dampened his heartbeat, until both were undetectable. The wizard stared down at the boy, feeling only hate. As death’s shadow, he’d come to make the illusion reality.

 

The wizard craved a hot brew and the comfort of his warm bed, but the grim task could be entrusted to no one else. Hands shaking, he pulled a dagger from its sheath and raised it over the child.

 

“No! Stop!”

 

Startled, the wizard’s hand lurched and the dagger nicked the child’s throat, spilling crimson on the white shroud. A sobbing woman ran into the chamber and grabbed the wizard’s arm, preventing him from inflicting further harm.

 

“Your majesty, you should not be here,” the wizard cried.

 

Wearing a plain brown cloak over her silk gown, hair flowing loose down her back, the queen clutched the wizard’s robes. “You said you wouldn’t truly hurt him.”

 

“Alessendra, I must. He will always be a threat.”

 

“No. Not if no one knows who he is.”

 

The Wizard turned away, forcing himself not to look at her. “We cannot take that risk.”

 

She laid a trembling hand on his cheek.  “Please. For me.”

 

Unwillingly, he met her dark eyes and knew he was lost. He could never refuse her. If only he’d killed the brat in the womb. He exhaled a long breath. “Very well,” he said, sheathing the dagger.

 

“Swear you won’t.”

 

“I swear I won’t harm him. But for our daughter’s sake, he’ll be sent away, tonight.”

 

The queen nodded, eyes on the child, as if memorizing his face.

 

“If you care for our daughter and her claim to the throne, forget this boy ever existed. The world believes him dead. He must be dead to you too.”

 

She whispered, “He’ll live in my heart.”

 

The wizard passed a hand over the child’s face and the babe stirred with a weak cry. “Go back to bed before you injure yourself.” The wizard bundled the mewling infant under his arm and slipped into the night, leaving the heartbroken mother to grieve.

##############################################################################


As always, leave your votes and critiques in the comments below. Again, be respectful of your remarks and try to point out positives as well as detraction's.

We’ll be back next week with SAVE WEEK.  Did one of your favorite pieces lose their bout? Then you'll want to make sure you come back next week when everyone will be giving the opportunity to possibly SAVE three contestants from elimination. Don't miss it!

Please help all our writers out by telling everyone you know what is happening here and encourage them to come vote.

This is WRiTE CLUB—the contest where the audience gets clobbered!



50 comments

  1. Congratulations, authors! Both are strong entries.

    Miss_Sunflower, I loved your piece. I could feel the emotion, the atmosphere, the characters. You transported me to your world. I also loved the premise, and I'm curious to know more about the story and about that world.

    Lady Moonsong, I love the way you wrote this. It's clean and engaging, and I'd love to know more. That said, your premise is not so new, so my vote has to go to Miss_Sunflower.

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  2. 🌙🎵 sounds like a retelling of Oedipus Rex with a magic twist. That's my fav Greek tragedy, so you get my vote.

    🌻 was good too. But it felt like it was trying to be by Patrick Rothfuss and just wasn't quite there yet.

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  3. Congrats, both of you! These were both very smooth reads--some of the most polished material we've seen.

    I read a ton of SFF, and while neither of these is something I would probably personally read, each had something to recommend it!

    An aside, but I was also super entertained by the similarity of your author aliases.

    Sunflower: A beautiful piece! Again, the prose is very smooth and very polished--exactly what I would hope to see in a writing contest.

    I have two main criticisms (and one is more of personal preference). Your descriptions, though they flow very nicely, are a little humdrum for me. Given how well your piece flows I expect you can push your creativity a little further to turn out some more original wordplay here.

    My second comment is that I'm really tired of the test/contest trope in fantasy, especially YA. I know it's pretty standard for the genre though, so take my criticism with a grain of salt.

    I was also not super into the names--they felt kind of random, like they didn't belong to the same language/culture. If this was intentional, it makes more sense, but I got the impression they'd been chosen because they felt fantasy-y.

    A good piece overall!

    Moonsong:

    Another smoothly-written piece!

    I'm assuming this is the prologue to a longer work about the child. I like the idea here--the tension between the wizard and the queen, but it all felt so distant. I get that perhaps you're obscuring the characters' identities for a later reveal, but for me it stopped me from being able to relate.

    As with Sunflower's piece, you also used a lot of tropes that feel tired in fantasy these days (notably, the secret heir to the throne plotline). The tension between wizard and queen elevated it a little above the usual, but I still found myself wanting more.

    I grew up reading fantasies written in omniscient, but I confess it's hard for me to do so anymore. I'm so used to a tight POV. I think that would have helped your piece here.

    A minor comment. In the line, "It landed on the dirt floor with an echoing thud" I feel like "thud" is the wrong sound. It made me think of a very large, heavy, plastic container lid. If this is stone I feel like it would crack, or make a more specific sound.

    Overall, good work both of you! This was incredibly hard to judge. I'll have to mull on my choice for a while, and to be honest it may end up being a tie for me.

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    1. I think the test trope is so popular because it parallels test taking kids are used to doing in schools. To me, what's not familiar about YA Fantasy tests/contests, is they are always on the level of high-stakes, world changing. And they're weirdly public. Might be more fresh at this point to truly mimic a more real-world test and have a bunch of kids taking it at once, where the outcome can have consequences (like getting a bad grad does) but it's not someone this huge event for a single kid.

      Alternatively, since this is musical-themed, it'd kind of be neat if this were an interplanetary/inter-school competition, like school bands compete in. Anyway, I thought you raised a good point there that I'm in agreement on it becoming a repetitive trope. There are other familiar aspects of the school experience I feel YA fantasies could explore more.

      I also agree with you on the "thud" feeling off. "Thuds" tend to be single, smothering sounds. They don't really echo, because they aren't sharp. So it was the combo of "thud" plus "echoing" that felt off to me (but I also agree the description of it could be more evocative of the item as a whole).

      Good insights!!

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    2. "... but it's not someHOW this huge event for a single kid."

      Man, I really wish you could edit comments.

      Delete
  4. I really enjoyed both pieces!
    #1 - loved the world you've built in so few words and the power of the music
    #2 - lovely story-telling voice that matches the story. Nice rhythm to the piece
    My vote goes to #1 for the unique concept

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  5. Congrats to both of you for today's great entries!

    Miss_Sunflower: I love the feeling of magic called and shared between the two young examinees. This melding of their separate gifts raised the trope of the magical test above the standard. What I missed was a sense of what was at stake in this exam. What would they win if they passed, or lose if they didn't? It also wasn't clear what they needed to do to succeed, so I was left with a general sense that this seems to be going well, but couldn't be sure. A little more context here would have been helpful.

    Lady Moonsong: The premise of the deadly baby who must be destroyed to protect others, but who is saved by his mother's love, is an intriguing one if not entirely fresh. Some of the story was confusing, though. Was the wizard also the king? He refers to the baby's sister as "our child," but at the beginning it says that the king is the baby's inconsolable father. The only thing I can figure is that the wizard is the queen's lover and father to both her children, but there's nothing else in the story to imply this. It left too much unclear for me to sink into the story as I wanted to.

    Overall, I really enjoyed both pieces. The writing is generally strong, even if it could be tightened in a few places. The contestants are quite evenly matched! I'm going go vote for Miss_Sunflower because it was clearer to me what was going on.

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  6. Miss Sunflower: I enjoyed the unique premise and your clean execution. For me personally, though, it's important to be able to picture the setting so I can see the action unfold in my head. Just when I felt drawn into the story itself, confusion about setting pulled me out. You mention an arena. Were they inside? Yet Zaraina smells the tang of ocean and her toes dig into sand. And Keyne is "across the arena," which I picture as large, but their eyes meet. It's the little details that hit me as off. Your setting has to make sense. Otherwise, the passage of her singing and him playing, together drawing on forces to create something powerful with wind and water, was executed beautifully. I also loved the last line, sounding exactly like an unsure teen who has no idea of her greatness.

    Lady Moonsong: Clean, beautiful writing from start to finish. Clear, easy to follow. But I stopped reading this fantasy trope about a year ago because they all seemed to blend together. Not much new or fresh. That's how yours started, yet you got me with the twist of the first-born child (daughter) belonging to the wizard. As I re-read, there are too many lines I've seen in too many stories:
    He will always be a threat.
    We cannot take that risk.
    I swear I won't harm him.
    Please. For me.

    For originality of premise,
    My Vote: Miss Sunflower

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  7. Miss_Sunflower -- Fun premise. Music and fantasy go well together, and your take was interesting. Lots of wasted words, though, and the whole ending after the rain could have been lopped off and the story would be better for it. You missed the mark by not having any similes or metaphors. The story and style were built for figurative language.

    Lady Moonsong -- Writing was fine, and the story may not have been original, but it worked. What didn't, and I know I sound like a broken record, but there was no figurative language, there were a lot of unnecessary words, and that whole first sentence should have been cut. In a business of show don't tell, way too much tell.

    Vote is for Miss_Sunflower

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  8. Miss Sunflower; your story and prose are like your name. Bright and light! I want to know who won what they do afterward!
    Lady moonsong: I love your name and your writing, but as a mom/baby nurse I cannot vote for a story taking a baby from his mother!!!

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  9. Oops, my vote is for Miss Sunshine!

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  10. My vote is going to Miss_Sunflower. While both were well written, Lady Moonsong’s premise is a well known trope and there was nothing in the submission that makes it standout or uses it in a new way. Miss_Sunflower's piece made me want to read more.

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  11. Well done getting though, two evenly matched writers, but MISS SUNFLOWER today is my preferred piece.

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  12. Lovely fantasy offerings today! My favorite!!
    Miss_Sunflower - an interesting concept. It had a low-key Last Air-bender vibe with the elemental magic, but only a hint. I love the inclusion of music as a vehicle. Made be think of Dragonsinger. I think it could give us more about her singing, though. It seemed like that was more an implied thing after it had already started. (I'm a singer, so I wanted to get into her head more about the actual vocalizations - but that's a personal preference.) Overall great job...and I really want to know if she passed!!
    Lady Moonsong - Nice twists all along the way. You've done a good job leading me down one path, then surprising me, and then doing that more than a couple of times! Your twists were not cliche, but believable in the fantasy genre. I'm thinking the wizard is the Princess' father? I hope so because THAT would be hella cool.

    This was the hardest decision I've had to make, yet. Definitely hanging on to you both as Save Week folk! Though I really liked MissSunflower, my vote goes to Lady Moonsong today.

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  13. Miss Sunflower - I loved your story and was intrigued about what happened next. Your writing is beautiful and you did an amazing job building your scene.

    Lady Moonsong - I enjoyed how you took a common story (Prince "dies") but showed us how it began. I'm curious why this little boy will always be a danger and loved seeing the mom's care for her son.

    To both writers - I rarely read fantasy, but loved both of your pieces and I'm curious to know more, so well done.

    My vote: Miss Sunflower

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  14. I only occasionally read fantasy, but when I do, I dive in to the hilt. Miss Sunflowers work hooked me from the beginning and left me wanting more at the end. I can't wait to see this in print.

    Lady Moonsongs work, although I know it's new, reads like so many other fantasies I've already read. It is good writing, smooth with plenty of twists, but it felt a little dusty for me.

    My vote goes to Miss Sunflower

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  15. Miss sunflower has my vote

    Every chord of detail emulsified into the next. Beautiful done,

    Lady moonsong - the first few lines were a little Vague and shadow Cliché descriptions of a story old as time. Just needs to freshen it up a bit. A new old so to speak.

    Good luck to all! 🤙🏼

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  16. groquemore86@gmail.com voted
    Miss sunflower has my vote

    Every chord of detail emulsified into the next. Beautiful done,

    Lady moonsong - the first few lines were a little Vague and shadow Cliché descriptions of a story old as time. Just needs to freshen it up a bit. A new old so to speak.

    Good luck to all! 🤙🏼

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  17. No time for lengthy feedback today, but Miss Sunflower has my vote.

    Lady Moonsong was well written, but not as immersive and Sunflower's piece.

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  18. Both stories were well written and enjoyable. My votes goes to Miss Sunflower. The story had an original premise, for me. I liked the emotion, then the question at the end, "Did we pass?"

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  19. I don't read fantasy so I couldn't tell you what is new and what is tired. So I won't vote like that. I'd like to vote for the piece that gave a better emotional punch, but neither one was in a deep enough POV to offer that (for me, anyway). I will, however, vote for which piece is more active, which piece shows more than it tells. And the winner there is Miss Sunflower.

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  20. I hate to have to choose. I've gotten away from reading fantasy the past few years, and haven't read much in the YA genre, so both of these premises seem fresh to me, both very well written.

    At first, I was leaning toward Lady Moonsong's entry because it felt familiar, and I am intrigued to know what will happen with the little prince.

    However, I'm going to swing my vote to Miss Sunflower's story. The premise is so original, and the imagery is captivating. I had no trouble visualizing the setting, but would love to learn more about this culture. There is a real sweetness about this story, and I was jarred out of my euphoria with the line: “Take them below.” He ordered. Yikes! Is that good? What's below? I have so many questions, and I want them answered!

    Congrats to you both, but Miss Sunflower wins this one for me.

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  21. My votes goes to Miss Sunflower

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  22. Congratulations, writers!

    Miss Sunflower:
    At first, the names slowed me down a touch, but once I got through that, this story flowed quite nicely. I also got a slight Airbender vibe but it was different enough that it was original. I adored how music and magic mingled.

    Lady Moonsong:
    I had a harder time getting into your story, though it was beautifully and tightly written. I think you lost me when the Queen actively chose her daughter over her son so heartlessly. Is it because she's more attached to her daughter? Does she have postpartum depression? Why would she trust the wizard to send her baby away when she busted him trying to kill him? He called her "your majesty", which seemed odd for lovers. Does that mean he knows she doesn't love him as much as he loves her? If that's the case, why wouldn't she just order him killed instead of trusting he won't harm her son?

    My vote goes to Miss Sunflower because the story wrapped up better and left fewer questions in my mind.

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  23. Sunflower: too many names and too much dialogue at the beginning. It settles into its pace after a few paragraphs. Lovely, lyrical prose that matches the story - really nice job. I don’t understand the ending. Zaraina and Keyne must have made the waterspout... what does this mean? What if they pass? What if they don’t? What’s down below? A touch more world-building will help clarify what’s at risk for them here.

    Moonsong: too much head hopping. Mother with secret, villagers hoping to see, wizard filled with hatred. To make this piece feel more immediate, you might pick one POV and stick with it. The would-be murder scene is a bit contrived - they already have an agreement, and if one of them has changed their mind about murdering a newborn, there should be a lot more emotion and mistrust. We’ve seen this concept many times, but I still enjoy the reveal.

    I vote for Moonsong, because the stakes are clear and I’m just not sure what’s at stake for Sunflower.

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  24. My vote goes to Miss_Sunflower!!! Loved the gorgeous language and the originality of this piece! For Lady Moonsong -- sorry, but less original and definitely lacking beauty of language. I was confused by "parents," which I thought meant the king and queen, only to learn that the wizard apparently was at least one of the parents. (Maybe you were starting the story at the wrong point?) Also, POV issues and distant-sounding narration left me cold.

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  25. My vote is for Miss Sunflower

    I agree with others that the full names gave me pause. Otherwise I like the description of the test, the personalities showed through gestures, and the eventual magical and musical harmony, all of it was great visualization. The ending works in both in favor and against the story, on one hand I wanted to keep reading to find out their fate but on the other I wanted to know more about the how and why of the test. Is it just the results that were unique or the test itself, is it a rite of passage or being done against a weather based calamity? Knowing this would give us their motivation.

    For Lady Moonsong the first sentence is a strong start, but in my opinion the following paragraph reads as redundant re-explaining emotions or circumstances we as the reader have been told or figure out. As I continued to read more questions kept coming up: If the infant is covered in a wagon or if the body is concealed why not kill it beforehand? Why bother opening the tomb when the infant would asphyxiate or starve? Is the wizard using magic to open the tomb? Why does the wizard hate his son and not his daughter? If the Wizard sired both children what has the king been doing? Is there a king? Why is the prince a threat to the princess? Preference for male vs female heirs?

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  26. Both pieces were good, but I have to go for Lady Moonsong. She left me wanting more the most, and her writing is lovely.

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  27. My vote goes to Miss Sunflower today. Really liked the way the two contestants used their gifts to create something bigger than they could do alone. I also liked that music was the magic of choice here.

    Lady Moonsong, your piece took too long to get moving for me. And once it had, the story was one I've seen before with nothing in particular to make it stand out.

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  28. My vote is for Lady Moonsong. I was drawn in to the story and suspense. And I appreciated the twist on the typical preference for male heirs.

    For Miss Sunshine, I really liked your premise, but I think it got bogged down in prose that was a bit too purple. A lot of the description took a concerted effort to read, rather than flowing nicely and allowing me to get lost in the scene. I think you could also make the stakes more clear. It doesn't have to be huge end of the world stakes, of course, but I do want to know why this test is so important for her

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  29. Miss_Sunflower -- This was really good. I do want to know if they passed and what they'll do with this skill.

    Lady Moonsong -- The queen and the wizards making babies and telling lies. Is this the next Game of Thrones?

    This is REALLY HARD. I want both of these! But I can see several way Miss Sunflower might go that would lose me (or might be the best story ever). Where as Lady Moonsong, I can only picture ways this story will get better.

    Lady Moonsong get my vote.

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  30. Congratulations to both writers- you can breathe a sigh of relief that you were chosen!

    Miss_Sunflower: I enjoyed the idea of this piece - with their skills matching together to bring about a desired result. The great matching of their skills hints at a great partnership to come. Also love the creativity of music being matched to magic. I think we needed just a few more words to set the scene - how did they both get here, are they trying to enroll in a school or get a job?

    Lady Moonsong: Very interesting conflict between the wizard and the queen over the fate of the prince. Overall, I was somewhat confused though - if they were going to kill him, why would they bother with the spell? If there was a reason, I would have loved a hint - did the queen convince him as a stalling tactic? Also, slightly confused about the Prince’s age - at first I was thinking he was a newborn (passing from living to death in one day) but then he also has a younger sister, so it sort of took me out of the story.

    My vote goes to Miss_Sunflower.

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  31. What a way to close out the prelim bouts! These are both examples of great writing.

    Sunflower - Trope or not, I'm still a fan of YA fantasies in a school setting and I love the concept you've built here with elemental magic. I appreciate the tight POV on Zaraina so I know where the plot will focus but want to get more into her head--not just what she's seeing, but what she's feeling and why she's reacting the way she is. Unless all the trembling and weeping are key to her character growth, I'd be nervous we're in for a bit of a damsel-in-distress. And a small aside... the "unauthorized waterspout" bit made me giggle, which I doubt that was the intention, but it really lowered the stakes if this is somehow a result of Zaraina and Keyne creating music together (??). For such a short piece where you don't have the opportunity to give context around what a waterspout means in this world, I would obscure WHAT exactly happened in the courtyard to leave the readers wondering.

    Moonsong - This piece had some great technical writing with a killer opening. That first sentence and second paragraph made me feel like I was stepping into a dark fairy tale. What followed was more great writing and seeds of an interesting story (wicked wizard, royal intrigue, OKAY!) but I was snagged on some of the plot particulars. The wizard was in on this charade to make the baby appear dead, seemingly the one to cast the initial spell ("you said you wouldn't TRULY hurt him"), so why hadn't he done the deed with the spell and saved himself a gruesome trip? It's not like he just had a change of heart, because we see that he wanted to kill the baby in the womb. Further, the wizard referring to the baby as a "brat" and musing about wanting to be at home in bed depicts him more as a crotchety old man than a dangerous, conspiratorial lover of the queen. (Less important and easy fix, blood "spilling" sounds like a lot of blood, especially for an infant, so I would consider a different word choice there.)

    I've gone back and forth on my vote here, but I'm going with Lady Moonsong for this one. I think the writing skill is slightly stronger, and it's easier to workshop plot than craft, IMO.

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    1. I did not even get the potentially risque connotation of the waterspout until you pointed it out. But now... yeah... I can totally see that. If that was the intention, clever! Subtle and works. If that was not the intention... agreed with KimberSaint's point.

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  32. Both stories were good, but I loved the song in Miss Sunflower's and sense a love story. Miss Sunflower gets my vote.

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  33. I vote for Lady Moonsong, because I would definitely keep reading to find out what happens next!

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  34. My vote goes to Miss_Sunflower.

    Miss_Sunflower - The description and language in this piece was lovely. Good use of repeating sounds - "the smirk in the quirk of his cheek" - very nice and added to the magic scenario. The contest theme is a common one in YA, but I wonder what was at stake here? Would the contestants be winnowed out? Are they under a deadly threat? The author hints at this when Zaraina "trembles" and she seems to be afraid but the reader never gets a sense of true danger. My vote goes to the piece because the writing is imaginative and enjoyable, and there is enough suspense at the end that I'd read on to see what happened.

    Lady Moonsong - There's a good set-up here, the banished heir, the element of a curse or magic, but I found the characters themselves to be confusing and I couldn't keep up with who was who. In the first part the reader is told the queen doesn't mourn because "she knows the truth" so this does set up immediately that the child may not be dead. This is a good hook. The reader will continue to read to find out what really happened to the child. The scene in the tomb began with an eerie description of the wizard removing the top from the crypt. The dialogue between the wizard and the queen didn't clear anything up, it leaves the reader wondering who is the "bad guy" in this tale - so we don't really empathize with any of the characters. An interesting premise, though, with opportunity to weave in enough conflict to make the story exciting.

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  35. Miss_Sunflower - Wow! What a fantastic read, well-developed, original storyline, and 500 words that do a fantastic job of hooking the reader and leaving them desperate for another page to turn to continue to story.

    Lady Moonsong - I enjoyed your entry and enjoyed your use of dialogue, but I felt that there were some themes used in your piece that I have read and/or seen on screen before. You are an incredibly talented writer, just be sure to stay true to the effervescent story bubbling from your original voice and story and you will achieve wonderful literary things!!

    Great job writers, but my vote for this bout is for...
    Miss_Sunflower! Thank you for offering reading excerpts that don’t cause my active imagination to go into nightmare/boogie man mode! Very much appreciated!

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  36. Lady Moonsong's story began with a lot of passive verbs, though it improved as it progressed. Perhaps a few stronger verbs in the opening paragraph.

    Miss Sunflower's writing was a little tighter. Vote for Sunflower.

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  37. Congratulations on being the final 2 entrants to make it through. You are both winners!

    Both entries again are genres I don't usually choose to read, so I am probably not as qualified as others who do read these genres to comment as to whether the stories are original or not.

    For Miss Sunflower, the mix of rather unusual names and dialogue to open your piece immediately put me off. Sorry, but I am just not I am not a fan of novels / writing that open with dialogue. I want/need a chance to meet a character first.

    The first few sentences were very vague to me, and have to say I would not have continued had this been a book I'd picked up in a store (sorry).

    Reading further I do think you had some beautiful lines, but on the whole I spent most of my time reading wondering exactly what was happening. Probably my ignorance as to not being a reader of YA / Fantasy.

    The spacing between your lines means scrolling to read is necessary, so I would suggest tightening that up so the reader doesn't lose their pace, unless your intention was to slow the passage down.

    I'm not sure what you mean by the "unauthorized water spout", or the ending when you say, "did we pass." I feel your strength as a writer is your use of language but sadly overall I felt very lost and confused in your story.

    Lady Moonsong, I felt you had a much stronger opening, though I would consider cutting to just: The Prince is dead. That for me as a reader feels much more powerful than adding the part about the kingdom grieving.

    While I don't know this genre well, I do know this is not an original story premise, but then how many stories truly are original? Just saying I do know of this premise, even though I don't know Fantasy. That is not a knock, just a mention that for this piece I have seen this story idea before. Perhaps you can think of ways to make it more original, so it can't be compared to similar stories.

    My biggest piece of advice for your piece is to try showing more than you tell. There is a lot of telling, which if you'd shown instead would elevate your story.

    I would also advice on tightening the gaps between lines, as again the text felt very spread out. When reading dialogue, the gaps between lines act like too long pauses, slowing the pace down. Dialogue is often used to speed prose up, and the large gaps have the opposite effect.

    I was able to follow your story though, which made reading it enjoyable rather than confusing.

    Another round where the contestants feel very evenly matched, and where both display strengths and weaknesses. This makes voting very hard.

    While Miss Sunflower excelled with some of her/his language, I feel it fairer to vote for the story I was able to understand and follow, and that in this round means my vote goes to Lady Moonsong.

    Good luck to you both.

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  38. Excellent entries to finish out the preliminaries! Congratulations to both writers.

    Maybe it's because of the extra quarantine reading, but unfortunately for Lady Moonsong the hidden/lost heir feels like I've read it before.

    I do like the twist of perhaps the wizard being the father of the Princess. That intrigued me.

    For Miss Sunflower, YA testing scene not withstanding, I enjoyed the music controlling the elements. That's new!

    My vote goes to Miss Sunflower.

    Tara.roquemore@gmail.com

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  39. Two EXCELLENT reads!!! I need more!!!!

    Miss Sunflower--Love the concept of music to control the weather... I want to know what happens next!!! The names were a little distracting... But the story pulled me in so quickly I forgot about it. :}

    Lady Moonsong--Really well-written, suspenseful... I got sucked in! I need to know what happens to the prince!!!

    So hard to choose between these two....
    My vote is for Miss Sunshine as the music grabbed my imagination!

    lindsey.tidmore1976@gmail.com

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  40. Miss_Sunflower has my vote. Beautifully written. Poetic and romantic and I’m a sucker for that.
    Lady Moonsong also very well written. It does make you want to know more. It is very dark, which is intended of course.

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  41. Voting Miss_Sunflower.

    I'll leave critiques for both pieces later this evening when I have more time :)

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  42. Okay! Found some time to get these critiques in :)

    Miss_Sunflower
    "Zaraina." This name definitely gives an other-world-y feel. I don't dislike it, but it did take me a few tries reading it to understand how it (may) be pronounced correctly. I think it's "Zar-ryeE-na," but originally read it as "Zar-rye-In-ya." It might be easier on readers if her name were a little shorter, like Zara. Maybe if she went by a nickname? In a longer work, we might get her nickname first and only the full for a more official function, like this test. That may help so readers aren't bogged down in all the unique names. If her name is Zara Mandolin, it also creates a nice parallel to Keyne Jiranos since both names would mirror 2 then 3 syllables.

    I love the music magic to drive elements concept! Very cool. I do lament that their roles aren't swapped. I think it'd be less expected if Keyne were the singer and Zaraina the musician. There's a lot unique here to like, so it's not a major point and works well as-is. But if you want to stand-out in the YA realm even more, something to consider.

    "A waiting silence fell." This sentences feels weak. It just doesn't flow as well as the rest of the writing. It also strike me as odd because I assumed, what with someone official announcing the start of something, that everyone else already was quiet.

    "No matter if this wind caller could keep up with her or not, she would sing her best." First note: "wind caller" is two words here when it was one word before. Be careful with consistency. Second note: Does she assume he can't? Or is she so nervous she's just trying to focus on herself? This sentence comes off as feeling like a background aside. I think it could be reworked to give us a better sense of Zaraina as a character.

    "...catching the barest smirk in the quirk of his cheek..." Great description!

    So if this is an exam and calling storms is part of the society, what is the goal of that? Right now, they just appear to move some water and wind, but I assume the function is possibly for agriculture? If so, I think this exam needs a clearer point. It's a pretty scene, but without grading criteria it feels a bit fake to me. Zaraina strikes me as someone who is very studious and hard on herself as far as what she can achieve, so I'd imagine she'd be focusing on the outcome of her song and making sure she nails everything to get the highest score.

    To that end, I don't dig her crying in the piece. I'm not sure I have a strong grasp of her character. There are hints she's a bit confident, yet insecure about her abilities (some implications she doesn't think wind callers can match her), yet she's also naive and oblivious, what with the innocent focus on her passing, aaaaannnnd she bursts into emotion at her own performance easily. Someone who is really, really on themselves to perform I don't buy crying. But it's hard to tell if that is her character or not. The magic itself is wonderfully depicted, but I think the characters suffered as a result. Is there a way to better integrate the actions of the magic with who they are? Maybe Keyne's wind is kind of cheeky? Maybe Zaraina tries to one-up him with the power of her voice? Or else, again, is laser focused on nailing each requirement?

    I'd also love to get a better idea what this song sounds like. There are many cultures that don't use words in their songs, but sound radically different. Is she singing in a high, clear register? Is she singing lowly, in the back of her throat? Is she holding her notes? Or are they staccato breaths? Are there radical range changes? What kind of emotion does it evoke? It is somber? Spirited? Details like these can bring the music magic even more to life and give us insight into this culture.

    Clean writing! This is an intriguing world!

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  43. Lady Moonsong
    "The prince was dead and the kingdom grieved." REALLY strong opening line! Drew me right in with an, "Ooh? Do continue!"

    Kept the intrigue high with the revelation that the prince is an infant. The opening is the strongest part.

    If you want to cut some words and add more punch, consider changing "...whose child had passed from the realm of the living to the realm of the dead in one short day... to "whose child passed from life to death in one short day." You might also, if you prefer it longer, consider reworking it to evoke some of the religion/mythology of this world, e.g. "whose life string the crones of fate wove and cut all in the same day."

    "...his inconsolable father, but not by his mother, who..." I'd break after father and let the "But not by his mother" stand on its own for more dramatic emphasis. Also, this paragraph is primarily all long sentences. A shorter one (or two if you want to change to "But not by his mother. She knew the truth.") at the end helps vary it up and keep the reading from getting lulling. On that note, might want to read through this and search for some longer sentences that can be broken into separate actions. Especially at places where you want high tension, the longer sentences impede that.

    "...he’d come to make the illusion reality." Fantastic line! If this wizard is especially talented at illusory magic, this is a great character detail, too.

    It'd keep the story stronger if we aren't just told right away that the prince isn't actually dead. I'd keep that the queen is not crying, but don't outright say there's some truth she knows, to lay the seed. Then show the wizard creeping around and staring in hatred at the baby.

    Then have the queen intervene and maybe she rushes to check the child, that action revealing he is alive, and shows that she actually wasn't super sure herself, but was just hoping, her son wasn't really dead. It will make the scene feel more urgent and immediate if we only get a hint of what's going on and the truth is unveiled gradually through their interactions and subtle hints. Maybe when the wizard opens the grave, the baby's cheeks are still rosy, as a further hint his blood is flowing. Details like that.

    “Please. For me.” I wish the queen wouldn't entreat him like this. She's THE QUEEN. It'd be nice if she assumed some power over the fate of her own son. Here, she comes off as kind of just the super feminine, medieval damsel stereotype. A kind, but frail pawn used by men. If she 's being ballsy enough to cheat on the king with this wizard, and, it sounds like, wants to circumvent tradition to allow her daughter a chance at the throne, then I wouldn't expect her to really be this powerless. Unless this is a very intentional act on her part, which I think we need a hint to see that.

    "If only he’d killed the brat in the womb." Holy crap! Okay, if the wizard ultimately ends up being a villain in this piece, then this totally works! If he's supposed to be sympathetic, or more complex, though, then man! Uh, you claim to love this woman? That's awful for HER! And you're a wizard! Why wouldn't he be willing to kill the king and make it look accidental? Or make the king impotent? YOU HAVE MAGIC, BRUH! Why is magical contraception seemingly never an option in high fantasy? I've never understood that.

    Love the idea you're building of the wizard and queen wanting their daughter to rule. I read this as "wizard and queen have illicit daughter. But then king gets queen pregnant with his male progeny. And, since this is a more traditional monarchy, son takes crown over daughter. So queen and wizard need to do away with prince to secure daughter's future." I might be off on that. But that's where my head is after reading.

    Definite possibilities here! Would like to see it pushed further from expected ground.

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